New York’s lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, turned himself in to federal authorities in April as prosecutors unsealed his indictment related to a campaign contribution scheme first exposed by THE CITY.
Hours later, he resigned from office. Though Benjamin stepped down, his name remained on the ballot due to the state’s election rules.
Why? The state’s Democratic Party nominated him as their candidate for the race, which he accepted in mid-February. The deadline for turning down the nomination passed on February 25 and there were only a handful of ways he could be removed from the ballot, said John Conklin, director of public information for the state’s Board of Elections.
Those include “death, declination or disqualification,” he said. Declination, or refusing the nomination, could only happen in Benjamin’s case if he were running for a different office, Conklin said.
Benjamin, who previously represented Harlem in the State Senate, could be disqualified from running in the election if he left the state and established residency somewhere else.
“It’s not just a matter of leaving the state. It’s moving out of the state,” said Sarah Steiner, an election attorney in New York. “If you don’t live in the state, you can’t run in the state.”
To contend with the problem, state lawmakers passed a special law in early May allowing people who have been arrested or indicted of a crime to be removed from a state ballot.
With Benjamin removed, Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated a replacement lieutenant governor and running mate: Rep. Antonio Delgado, a House member representing the Hudson Valley.
With Benjamin’s resignation, what had largely been a predictable race for lieutenant governor became newly chaotic. New York state law allows candidates for lieutenant governor to run and win independently from candidates for governor in the primary.
That means that candidates on separate tickets in the primary could end up paired together after the general. It happened in 1982 when Mario Cuomo, who became governor, ended up serving with Alfred DelBello, who ran for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial candidate Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City at the time.
Who might end up in office with the next governor? As of early May there are at least four candidates registered to run for the lieutenant spot with the state Board of Elections:
Ana María Archila
Archila co-founded the immigrant-rights organization Make the Road New York and is running with the Working Families Party candidate Jumaane Williams.
She moved to the U.S. from Colombia at age 17 and made national news in 2018 by confronting Sen. Jeff Flake inside an elevator before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Archila has already begun fundraising off of the arrest news, sending a message to supporters by email that said “our elected officials should be held to the highest ethical standard to preserve the public trust” and that Benjamin “has violated that compact.”
In an interview with THE CITY Tuesday, Archila emphasized that she wants to model how to be accountable to “regular people,” with an aim to “alleviate the pressures” they’re facing — with a focus on affordable housing, childcare and support for immigrant communities.
If she were elected, she’d be the first Latina and queer person to serve in the role, she noted.
“I would bring into the Lieutenant Governor’s office the perspectives and the experiences of people who have been relegated to the margins,” Archila said. “Being the first is nice, but being the one that makes a difference for people is actually much nicer.”
Delgado won his congressional seat in the Hudson Valley in 2018 after a heated race against incumbent John Faso, a Republican, and won a second term in 2020. The Schenectady-raised politician is the first Black or Hispanic person to represent an upstate district in Congress.
In a statement on May 3, Delgado said New Yorkers deserve a lieutenant governor “who’s working day and night to make lives better for working people and their families.”
“Upstate, downstate, doesn’t matter. We all want the same things, security, family, and opportunity,” he said. “The key is to listen to New Yorkers from all walks of life and then be their voice to get the job done.”
He is a Harvard educated lawyer who had a brief career as a rap artist before working as an attorney in New York City. He moved from New Jersey to Rhinebeck before running for his Congressional seat, according to reporting by the Albany Times Union at the time.
Delgado leaves an opening in a Congressional district that has long been a swing seat. Hochul is expected to announce a special election to fill the vacancy.
Esposito is a former NYPD deputy inspector who Republican Lee Zeldin chose as his running mate.
On Tuesday, Esposito shared a message on Twitter from the New York State GOP that said Benjamin “is corrupt & dishonest – of course he fits right in with Kathy Hochul … It’s time for New Yorkers to show them both the door.”
Reyna is a former deputy borough president who served under then-Borough President Eric Adams in Brooklyn and former City Council member representing parts of Bushwick, Williamsburg and Ridgewood. She is running with centrist Democrat Rep. Tom Suozzi.
She and Suozzi issued a joint statement Tuesday that said the indictment of Benjamin is also “an indictment on Kathy Hochul’s lack of experience and poor judgement [sic].”
“The Suozzi/Reyna ticket will clean up this corrupt mess,” they said.
Anything Can Happen
Politics watchers note the race is much more open after Benjamin’s resignation.
Steiner says the indictment gives an opening.
“If I were the other candidates for lieutenant governor, I would up my game,” she said. “Because you’ve got a shot now.”
Once in the second-in-command seat, chances are not bad that a lieutenant gets the top job, if recent history is any guide. David Paterson and Hochul herself got that promotion — not through elections, but by resignations.
“Anything you can ever think of, will happen,” said Steiner of New York politics. “And everything that you haven’t brought up will also happen.”
Previously, tech entrepreneur Quanda Francis had campaigned for lieutenant governor, but she did not get a spot on the June ballot according to BOE records.